23 May Golden Circle Tour, Iceland
Golden Circle Tour, Iceland
Fiona Black – Arctic Travel Centre
A Golden Circle tour is a must for any visit to Iceland. I found myself in Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland, following an incredible voyage along the east coast of Greenland. As I was only in Iceland for 3 days I needed to make the most of my time. I wanted to see Strokkur Geysir, the parting of the tectonic plates at Thingvellir National Park and one of the world’s most beautiful water falls – Gullfoss. Lucky for me this is all possible to do in one day on a route called the Golden Circle, starting and finishing in Reykjavik.
There are a number of options available when visiting the Golden Circle. You can take a private tour with a guide, join a group tour or hire a car and self-drive. I chose a small group with a guide and I’m glad I did as I gained insight into Icelandic culture including this interesting fact: a mobile app has been created for Icelanders where by entering in the social security number of the person you are romantically interested in identifies if you are related to them. Apparently this is of great use in a country with such a small population.
Scenic views of Iceland
My Golden Circle tour started with an early departure from my hotel to drive approximately 40km northeast of Reykjavik, along a scenic highway, to arrive at Thingvellir National Park. This park is not only spectacularly beautiful but it is also unique as its located in a rift valley caused by the separation of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. Here you will find walking tracks around and through the rift valley as well as lakes and streams. As I walked along these paths with the high walls of the earth’s crust towering above, a feeling of humbleness and insignificance flooded through me. Here is where you can truly see the power of nature.
Eurasian and North American tectonic plates
Thingvellir National Park is a UNESCO heritage listed site as it is home to the site of Iceland’s first parliament ‘Althing’ which include the remains of a church and stone shelters from the 10th-18th centuries.
Back into the comfortable mini-van my day continued to the Geysir Field. The geothermal heated water builds up pressure underground until it eventually releases a large plume of water through a blow hole. The most active geyser in this region is Strokkur which erupts every few minutes reaching heights of up to 30m. We spent about an hour exploring the different geysers and mud pits here. Much of this time was spent waiting in anticipation for the next spray at Strokkur trying to capture a photo and even though I expected the eruption I couldn’t prevent an involuntary ‘whoop’ coming out of my mouth when it did.
As we drove on to the famous Gullfoss waterfall our guide told stories of what it is like growing up in Iceland and how they survive the extremely short days during the depths of winter – the shortest day around 21 December where there is only 4 short hours of daylight in Reykjavik and even less the further north you go. It turns out the pub is a popular place to be during this time as well as the naturally heated spas that are all over Iceland. One consolation of this oppressive lack of sunlight is the brilliant Northern Lights which are best seen from November through to February.
We stopped briefly for some photos and to pet the beautiful Icelandic horses which are particularly famous for their fifth gait. The gait is in between a trot and a canter as is essentially a smoother movement keeping the rider more comfortable than during a trot or canter. The curious horses eagerly ate the grass we picked from our side of the fence. Turns out they also think ‘The grass is greener on the other side’.
At the next stop I donned my rain coat and followed the path winding along the side of the gorge which took me so close to the Gullfoss Waterfall I could feel the mist on my face! Gullfoss, also known as the Golden falls, is fed by the Hvita glacier river and drops 32m (over 2 drops) into a narrow gorge. From the path you can see all the way down the impressive fall and on a sunny day you will be welcomed with a rainbow in the mist.
The final stop of the day was at Kerið, a crater lake 270m wide and 55m deep. This crater is impressive not only due to the incredible preservation of the caldera but also because the volcanic rock is a vibrant red colour whilst the water is an opaque aquamarine. We walked around the top of the crater and down to the side of the lake. Our guide mentioned that occasionally bands play here as the acoustics are very forgiving. What a spectacular concert that would be!
I was dropped back at my hotel in Reykjavik just before dinnertime having enjoyed a day full of adventure. I would highly recommend visiting the Golden Circle on your trip to Iceland as it really is a treat to some of nature’s finest masterpieces.
Kerið Lake Crater
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